American Cultural Narcissism-(Part 1:Revolutionary Values)

(An analysis based on Chapter 1 of The Culture of Narcissism.)

To live for the moment is the prevailing—to live for yourself, not for your predecessors or posterity. We are fast losing the sense of historical continuity… (Lasch)

If you have no past, you have no future. As an American, no matter what race or ethnicity you are, you have a history. The fact that you are here in the first place has something to do with your history, whether good or bad.

When we overthrew our British overlords in 1776, we lost a good chunk of our cultural continuity. We had to start all over and base our “history” on the events, institutions and values accumulated since the Revolution namely, democracy and the Constitution. For many, these are powerful symbols of our “history.” However, since people of African heritage were not allowed to participate in such revolutionary institutions, some people—particularly on the political left–see these revolutionary values as tainted. Some even go so far as to argue that Black Americans have no “history” at all. To me, this is a pathetic and erroneous notion. Through DNA analysis, I can trace both black and white ancestry back to Jamestown, Virginia. I bear the weight of all that my slave ancestors went through. I have free mulatto and Indian ancestors who were run out of Virginia because they were seen as a threat to the status quo. I am a relative of both Thomas Jefferson and Nat Turner.

I would NEVER allow some alienated narcissist to tell me that the United States is not my country. I could never allow myself to believe that I have nothing to live or work for. My people have FOUGHT for the “revolutionary values” that the Constitution does indeed represent despite the fact that we were denied those values for centuries.

I was a Black student leader back in the late 1980s. One of my comrades in the anti-apartheid movement told me that the South African struggle was a much bigger fight there than it could ever be in America because there was no concept of “all men are created equal“ in their constitution. In fact, there was not much of a “constitution” period. So the next time you feel that “American values” are not worth fighting for think of where you would be without them.

American Cultural Narcissism (a Prologue)

I have decided to read (or I should say, re-read) The Culture of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch. I can think of no greater piece of work that appropriately explains today’s American culture (or the lack thereof.) I first read this book in graduate school over twenty years ago in an American Studies class. I remember that back then the book made a lot of sense to me, intuitively, even though I did not quite understand much of it.

The Preface of this book speaks of an American populace (circa late 1970s) who have no sense of a past let alone any future. They mistrust authority figures and institutions. They also don’t trust “capitalism” although they act out what they believe is the worst aspect of it—a dog-eat-dog individualism. The universities no longer teach history or sociology. In fact, they no longer appreciate the Humanities at all but instead push a bastardized version of the Liberal Arts. Similarly, “facts” or “truths” mean nothing to the narcissist. As of 2017, the trends that Lasch noted in 1979 have accelerated tenfold. Nowadays, people “debate” based on emotions. There is no attempt at all to arrive at a “truth” or a common understanding.

Health Care, Regulation and Confused Statism

My aunt told me today that her “greedy” healthcare plan dramatically raised prices a couple of years ago after it consolidated itself into a “group plan” to get rid of “all the extra people being brought in.” So I asked her–“Why were they forced to take in all those people?”

“The Affordable Care Act,” she said.

“So, would you say that Obama is responsible for the health care mess,” I said. She argued that it’s not Obama’s fault that healthcare companies dropped customers, raised prices and increased deductibles–that’s just corporate greed. What my aunt does not understand is that health care companies have simply been reacting to regulatory conditions that have put a burden on the marketplace. Today, we have a health care industry that limits competition. Basically, the monopolistic big companies dictate the terms and if they cannot have their way they walk away.

Look, I like Obama–as a person. Like most African Americans, I am proud that he was our president. He embraced our culture. He represented us with swag while still being dignified. But his economic policies are that of a confused statist.

Similar to the ObamaCare fiasco, Democrats refused to take responsibility for the financial meltdown during the Bush Administration. They blame “corporate greed” for gambling with faulty securities based on equally faulty mortgages. But who forced the financial industry to make loans to people who could not afford them? Who encouraged the securitization? Bill Clinton, that’s who. Barney Frank, that’s who. It was the progressive side of George W Bush’s mentality that encouraged him to keep this game going; not his conservative side.

My aunt, like many Democrats, is a smart person. She simply stopped thinking for herself and allowed the CNN’s of the world to provide simplistic answers for her.

The Zoe Saldana/Nina Simone Controversy:Pros & Cons

“Black Twitter” has been raging for the past several weeks about the fact that brown-skinned Hispanic American actress, Zoe Saldana, was cast to play dark-skinned Black American singer, Nina Simone. The detractors are complaining that Saldana is not “black enough” to play Simone. When I first heard about this controversy I dismissed it as “typical Black Twitter hate.” Then I saw the trailer for the film and Saldana in dark-brown make-up and a fake nose and I was a bit taken aback.

I remember as a young child seeing my parents’ Nina Simone albums on the stereo stand. My mother was a huge Simone fan. One day, I picked out one of her albums and what struck me immediately was seeing a very striking dark-skinned woman. Even as a child, I was attracted to dark skinned women so her complexion alone caught my eye. I eagerly played the album, listened to the first song and was immediately disappointed. It was blues-y and to me, somewhat depressing. At 8 or 9 years old, I did not understand it. It was nothing like that “happier” music I had associated with the likes of Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin or Patti Labelle. In later years, I recognized her for what she was–a genius misunderstood.

simone2

In regards to this controversy, I am split as to whether Zoe Saldana should have played Nina Simone. Here are my “pros” and “cons” of the matter:

Pros:

1.Zoe Saldana is a good actress. It is not easy to play a complex person like Nina Simone, especially with all the ups and downs that she experienced. From the little I have seen of the trailers, Saldana did an admirable job. Others may have looked the part but could they play the part?

2.One cannot blame Saldana herself for taking the part. Perhaps it was just another “acting gig” for her. Acting jobs in Hollywood are hard to come by even for seasoned professionals; especially ones of color. If you want to blame someone try the casting director.

Cons:Simone-movie

  1. Personally, I would have preferred a Black American actress who came from a similar cultural background play the role of Nina Simone. I think it is harder for the typical Hispanic actress to culturally relate to Simone’s experience as a Black American woman. Even the average light-skinned Black American woman would not have even thought about taking that role because she would know (or would have been advised) that this would not be culturally appropriate.
  2. If a non-Black-American actress had been chosen for the part, I would have preferred for that actress to have been physically and aesthetically “blacker” (i.e, more West African looking) like Simone was.
  3. I prefer women who don’t wear too much make-up.

Black People, Protesters, and the Trump Backlash

It is all too predictable. It has been the same pattern for nearly 50 years now. Democrats take over the White House, progressives and their marching black shock troops start groaning about how America is such an awful place, how the government is not “doing enough to help the poor,” and that “all white people are racists. Then middle- and working-class white folks (the “silent majority”) get angry at “the black people” and the true racists among them start latching on to the Republican party and become white shock troops for the Establishment. The Donald Trump phenomenon is nothing new. Let’s go back a bit, shall we?

In 1965, after a successful, largely Black middle class-led civil rights movement, extreme Leftists start yelling that voting rights and affirmative action were “not enough.” They wanted to completely transform society into some vague form of socialism so they encouraged Black people to adopt “militant” attitudes and start rioting in the streets at the slightest provocation. A prevalent myth in Black activist circles is that the Black Power movement and rioting got us Affirmative Action. The truth is that President Johnson had already embraced Affirmative Action in 1965 well before much of worst rioting occurred. The only lasting accomplishment that Black Power provided was a stronger identity with Africa but that was accompanied by an increasing hatred toward white people. The most lasting impact of the Black Power and New Left movements was the rise of Richard Nixon and New Right politics. The “silent majority” got sick of the anti-white talk and swept Nixon to power.

In 1976, Jimmy Carter was elected. He presided over an economy that had double digit unemployment and inflation. He ran up the National Debt and maintained price controls. The country had sunk into what he described as a “malaise.” Since Black people overwhelmingly supported Carter, Black people started getting blamed for all the nation’s problems. There were white people out in the streets burning disco records. Society called out for a conservative “white knight.” Enter Ronald Reagan.

In 1992, Bill Clinton was elected with overwhelming black support. He was even called our “first Black president.” He and his wife Hillary immediately pushed to implement universal health care which libertarians and conservatives saw as “socialized medicine.” Their opposition was so intense that it galvanized rank-and-file white folks to usher in Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America during the 1994 Republican midterm onslaught.

In 2008, President Obama gets elected (with overwhelming Black support) after telling Americans that “middleclassness” was somehow a bad thing. It was this, along with his push for universal healthcare and his having a communist father, not Obama’s supposed “Blackness,” that sent right-wing white folks into a tizzy and led to the extraordinary rise of the Tea Party. Many of these folks overreacted and started believing that Obama himself was a “communist” and began obsessing over irrelevant issues like his birth certificate. He inherited a collapsed economy and did nothing to spur true growth. Like 1994, the right wing took over Congress in 2010 and prevented spending policies that could have further damaged the economy.

In 2014, the BlackLivesMatter movement erupts when Trayvon Martin is shot after (allegedly) bashing George Zimmerman’s head in. The movement’s insistence on blaming “white people” and “white supremacy” has led us to the current climate where the “silent majority” white folks are fed up. Donald Trump is taking advantage of this because since he has no support from the Establishment he has no choice but to rile up the white masses.

BlackLivesMatter, Social Justice and Futility

I grew up in a “Black Power” household. The portraits on the wall were not of Christ, King or Kennedy but of Malcolm, Huey and Stokeley. There were West African statues everywhere, especially female ones–which I didn’t mind–they taught me at an early age what a woman looks like. Black music was constantly playing in the air–Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The O’Jays–you name it. The incendiary lyrics of the Last Poets–a Black Nationalist group–were firmly imprinted on my brain. I was the first kid in my neighborhood to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X cover-to-cover. So naturally, I was well suited for a life of “black activism.” LPoets2

In college, I was that guy who would stick a copy of The Autobiography in your face and ask “Do you know your history, Brother/Sister?” I was also the type who would gather about 200 of my friends, take over the Administration building and end up on your local news. Back then (late ’80s-early’90s), “black activism” wasn’t very popular until Public Enemy came along and even though “conscious Hip Hop” had made black political awareness a “trend”, real activism was confined to a small hard-core cluster of Blacks who were often joined by an equally small cluster of dedicated, radical whites. At the time, I could not understand why a majority of Black people never seem to take activism seriously.

I recently attended a speech by black activist Marc Lamont Hill in which he contended that in the 1960s, 86% of Black people never marched for civil rights. I know radical cynics who would say that this is because most Blacks are “content” with being “oppressed” as long as they are allowed to have “crumbs” from the system. As I get older, however, it becomes clear to me that “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” Often, people become “activists” because they are “searching” for something and once they “find it” they become a vital part of the system they claimed was so oppressive. blm

The majority of Black Americans do not actively support #BlackLivesMatter because they know that the problem of “police brutality” will not be solved by activism alone. They also know that “black lives” do not really matter to other black people hence our obscene murder rates. If black lives really mattered, Black Americans would be building, supporting and controlling institutions that empower the group as a whole instead of begging white people to “act right” from a position of weakness. Ultimately, after all of the marching, screaming and burning we will still be left with the same problems unless we fix our own house.

Movements come and movements go. Politicians come and they go. Government programs come and they go. Black people, remain.

 

 

 

 

Not Black Enough

When I was in 7th grade, my mother moved me to Northern Virginia where I attended a very diverse, middle class, public school. I was immediately befriended by three white boys who were somewhat popular. Many of the Black kids were from an old segregated section of town. It was clear to me that I was very much an outsider to the Blacks in my new school. One day in the locker room after gym, one of the Black boys blurted to me, “You a WHITE boy!” This really confused me considering my upbringing and the fact that I had moved there from New Jersey where my school was 98% Black. It didn’t hurt me because I didn’t even know what that meant. Up until that point, I had always been Black. No one had ever questioned me. Over time though, I began to realize that I was clearly not as “hood” as the other Blacks in the school and perhaps I was somehow “missing something.”

In 8th grade, my father decided to move me back to Upstate New York. My high school there was split evenly between African Americans, Irish Catholics and Jews. The white kids were middle class. The Black kids were working class or very poor. Most of my friends in my immediate neighborhood were Black. One of my friends caught me wearing Levi jeans. Back then, Levi’s were very popular amongst the middle class white kids of Northern Virginia but for a Black kid, wearing Levis amounted to social suicide. Black kids started calling me “LEVI!” everywhere I turned. Levi two-horseThat hurt. I decided at that point to no longer hang with white kids. My goal now was to be as “black” and “cool” as possible which I interpreted as hanging in the streets, drinking, playing basketball, fighting and cutting classes.

My grades immediately tanked from straight A’s to “barely passing.” Fortunately, my father forced me to take college preparatory classes or I would have never made it to college. All year I would carry a “D” or “F” average then study the last two weeks for the Regents final, pass it with an “A” or “B”, and end up with a “65” (passing) for a final grade. Meanwhile, I was “fresh to death” with my Air Jordans, gold chains, bomber jackets and other emblems of “ghetto civilization.” I found myself hanging out late at night with girls or on corners drinking 40-oz malt liquor with “my boys.” Increasingly, I was gaining “street-cred.” Or so I thought.

By 12th grade, a group of tough guys from the projects had become fed up with the “ghetto charade” of my crew and began attacking us. I found myself in a series of fights and skirmishes. Since my crew was outnumbered we enlisted the aid of the enemies of our enemies from the housing projects on the other side of town. From that point on, it was “gang warfare.” Fortunately for me, I graduated that year and got the hell out of town.